Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Defense of Infant Baptism

Circumcision in the Old Testament was a sign of the Mosaic Covenant. Paul tells us in Romans 4:11 that circumcision was "a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith" when speaking of Abraham. What were Abraham's instructions for future circumcision? One might assume with an individualistic culture such as our own that Abraham would only then circumcise those who subsequently made a profession of faith. However, Abraham was to circumcise all of his descendants. Isaac was commanded to circumcise both Jacob and Esau, though we read in Romans 9 that God already had decreed the salvation of Jacob, and knew that Esau would fall away. The sign was to be applied to those of faith and their children.

Paul writes in Colossians 2:11,12 "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." Baptism is now the sign of initiation into the people of God. It has replaced circumcision. Now the question that must be asked is, has this household principle changed? Who receives this sign? It must be assumed that if this had changed the authors of the New Testament should have made it clear to their readers or they would inevitably give the sign to their children.

There are many times when baptism occurs when the baptism is for a believer and his household. Some examples of this are: 1 Corinthians 1:16, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33 and Acts 11:14. Paul and Luke here are extending the same practice which already happened in circumcision. The phrase used here for household is "Oikos." This phrase denotes in Greek, an entire family including children, and may indeed be pointing specifically to children and infants. This same phraseology is used in the Old Testament when discussing whole households which include children: Gen 7:1, 45:11, 1 Sam 25:6, 2 Kings 8:1 and several other places. Early church uses of the word denote a similar meaning such as in Hermas and Ignatius, both early 2nd century writers.
Proselyte baptism was practiced within Judaism at the time of the New Testament. This was baptism given to gentiles who converted to the Jewish faith. It is clear that it existed before the New Testament through the discussions of Shammai and Hillel. They were Rabbis who lived shortly before the life of Christ. Thus when John began baptizing, he was using a right already instituted but gave it new meaning. In proselyte baptisms, if a parent converted to the Jewish faith, their children would also receive baptism. There is no reason to believe that this changed.

Jesus himself says, "do not permit the children from coming to me" In Luke 15:16-17. The language here is similar to early baptismal language as Jesus says "do not hinder them". In early baptisms, one who had faith and was baptized was asked if anything hindered them from being baptized. Luke knows this and is using this phraseology to get the point across.

This idea that children of believers are separate from heathen children and therefore should be baptized is explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." (7:14) The argument Paul is making here is not about the children. The issue he is dealing with is whether a Christian should stay married to a non Christian. He argues that since the child is holy with one Christian parent, the marriage is ok. The principle that the child is Holy Paul simply assumes that the Corinthians understand as he uses that principle to defend himself. He does not offer any defense for the principle of the holiness of children itself.

The evidence in the early church shows that this has been practiced since the beginning of the church. Origen (185-254) Hippolytus (170-236) Irenaeus (115-202) and Tertullian (160-220) all mention the practice. None of them try to defend infant baptism but simply assume it. Hippolytus whose family was in the Christian faith for a few generations testifies that it has been a tradition since the beginning of the church. He must have known of his grandfather or possibly great grandfather being baptized as an infant. This takes one to the very beginnings of the church.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Evaluation of NT Wright's Critical Realism

NT Wright is certainly a controversial figure within Evangelicalism these days. It seems like some accept everything he says as truth, while others see his mistakes and dismiss all of what he has written. I, being a Lutheran, reject his interpretation of Paul and adamantly disagree with his redefinition of justification. However, I do believe he has some helpful insights in other areas which the reader of the New Testament can greatly benefit from. Among these is his dismissal of both the pre-modern, modern, and post-modern ways of looking at texts. They all have truth to them, but all dismiss a vital aspect of exegesis. This information comes from his book "The New Testament and the People of God".

When reading the New Testament, we must read it like any other book, taking into account what the author was trying to say, and how it applies to us today. Thus, we must construct a theory of reading any historical text. Wright dismisses the idea that history and theology form a dichotomy and must be studied seperately. The New Testament itself always grounds theology historically, and interprets history within the realm of theology. The tendency of many to seperate the "natural" elements of history and the "supernatural" of theology is in itself flawed. The liberal camp has dismissed the supernatural, while the conservative camp has also fallen into this false dichotomy by focusing on the "supernatural" as if it is somehow seperated from the natural.

The modernist epistemology of Positivism is a completely wrong way of coming to the knowledge of a historical text, or anything for that matter. The positivist sees some aspects of knowledge to be absolutely certain. What is not absolutely certain then falls into the realm of the unknown and must be doubted. This view holds to the idea that one can have a "god's eye view" of the facts, without being influenced by any preconcieved notions. Since theological ideas cannot be objectively verified, they are rejected. This view has logically resulted in the relativism that is rampant today. When people realize that there is doubt in every sort of knowledge, and that nothing can be empirically 100 percent verifiable, they reject objective knowledge all together, thus one is only left with doubt. Some areas of knowledge such as science are seen as knowable, while facts about God and the afterlife are left to mere speculation.

The phenomenalist rejects the notion that one can have certainty of objective truth. However, phenomenalism goes too far in rejecting the false epistemology of positivism by asserting that one can only know his perspective of what the truth is. If one reads a New Testament text, he has no certainty what that text means, only what he percieves it to mean. In fact, one cannot even be sure that there is a New Testament, but that one percieves a book with understandable words telling the story of Jesus. Thus, the only knowledge one has is of oneself. Logically, this could cause one doubt the existence of everything but oneself.

So, what is Wright's position rejecting both the mere objective and subjective ways of viewing things? The objective and subjective categories to Wright are unhelpful. One must dismiss these categories and look beyond them. All truth involves both the knower and the known. There is a truth that is out there to be known. I need not question whether or not the New Testament actually exists while I am reading it. This is called Realism. However, though it is admitted that truth outside of oneself can be known, he does not accept the idea that the process of knowing is a mere intellectual excercise which does not engage the knower. The knower only views the known within his own preconcieved notion of reality. His worldview is not only shaped by evidence, but shapes it. We all have our own stories that we fit our experiences into. We must also realize that the New Testament writers also have their own stories by which they interpret their experience. There story involves the redemption of the people of God. This part of Wrights epistemology is Realism.

Having explained the epistemology Wright uses to come to the text, the question is now how that epistemology works itself out practically in New Testament exegesis. Let us look at four common methods used in the interpretation of scripture. The first is the pre-critical method. This was the method used by the Patristics often, especially in the practice of "lectio divina" wherein one sees the text outside of its historical context and interprets it in a way that it applies specifically to the reader's life. This, in the worst cases, resulted in an allegorical interpretation of the text. Fortunately this position sees the text as something which is alive, and not simply dead in the past with no relevance to the modern reader. Pietistic circles still practice the pre-critical method.

The next approach is the "historical approach" which became popular at the time of the enlightenment. In the approach one looks behind the text to see which parts are genuine historical events, and which are not. One studies the historical context of these statements and other statements at the time period like the one being studied, and tries to reconstruct it's original meaning. While this method is correct in looking at historical reality, it is overly optimistic of our attempt to reconstruct the past, and leads to a static reading which has no effect on the modern reader.
The third approach is the "theological approach." This takes the text and evaluates how it speaks of God and man. It is not so much concerned with the historical content, but with what point the author is trying to make with the text. This view, promoted by Bultmann, again promotes the false dichotomy of theology and history. Historical and theological interpretations are always connected in the view of the New Testament writers.

The postmodern approach rejects all the modernists questions about the text regarding "what actually happened" in history. Instead, the focus is on the reader himself. What presuppositions does the reader bring to the text he is reading? How does this effect how he understands the text? This may to some extent, involve his view of the historical question, it is certainly not the focus. Unfortunately, this approach only leads one to knowledge of self, rather than the text, thus the entire purpose of the New Testament is missed.

There are elements of each of these approaches which are certainly helpful. The enlightenment, though its beginings were greatly flawd, does have some helpful insight for the believer. The Biblical story is grounded in history, and is dependent upon history. We must not forget that fact. Scripture does not testify to mere "spiritual truths" whose only purpose is to edify individual believers, but to the coming of God into actual history through the person of Jesus. However, we must also remember that this recorded history is never merely "objective." This history is always recorded and interpreted by one who has his own set of preconcieved notions of the world. He fits this real history into his own story. It is to be remembered however, that the New Testament is not simply "about faith" as Bultmann would have it, but about Jesus. Some have mistakenly seen the purpose of the New Testament writers as showing transcendent truth which has no bearing on actual history. The New Testament includes both real history and transcendent truth. They need not be seperated.

So what do I think of Wright's proposition of critical realism? It certainly has much truth to it. The categories of "objective" and "subjective" are often unhelpful. Many see truth as something that either exists completely outside of oneself, or only inside of oneself. However, I feel the Wright goes too far in seeing all truth as involving both the known and knower. There is much truth that is unknown to us, and our ignorance in no way effects the reality of such truth. In my mind, the categories of "objective" and "subjective" need to be redefined, though not necessarily dismissed. One of my main concerns about NT Wright's exegetical efforts, is that he sometimes reads too much into the story of the writer. Narrative does certainly effect how all men think and write, however, this is not to the exclusion of propositional truth. One need not, as Wright does, read into Paul's discussion of baptism in the opening verses of Romans 6, the underlying narrative of the crossing of the Red Sea. The position I would opt for is a modified critical realism, accepting Wright's critiques, while not completely accepting his revision.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Luther and Calvin on Baptism

It seems that just about everyday since my conversion to Lutheranism I have had to explain what my view of baptism is. I am usually talking to Calvinistic protestants, as I go to Geneva college. I would like to evaluate what Luther and Calvin's views of baptism were.

Luther's view of baptism is pretty clear. "It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives all eternal salvation who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare". (Luther's small catechism) Simply put, baptism does what scripture says it does; it saves. "Concerning baptism, our churches teach that baptism is necessary for salvation and that God's grace is offered through baptism." (Augsburg Confession Article IX) Baptism is not a mere symbol of grace that is recieved. It genuinely offers and gives grace to the recipient. This is not equal to the Roman ex opera operato view of baptism as is often alleged. In the Roman system, one who is baptized is put in a state of grace, regardless of their faith and only loses that grace when one commits a mortal sin. We recognize that without faith, no man will be saved. Thus, baptismal regeneration is dependant upon faith. Since faith is a gift, God gives the gift of faith to the recipient, even as an infant. Though, the subject of infant faith must be the subject of a seperate post. It must also be said that it is possible for one to be saved without baptism, as faith in Christ alone justifies. However, outright rejection of baptism in tantamount to rejection of God himself, thus no true faith can really be present. True faith always results in baptism.

What is Calvin's view of baptism? "Baptism is the sign of initiation by which we are recieved into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God's children." (Institutes Book IV ch. XV) For Calvin, baptism is not merely a sign. It is not something man does to confess his faith before others, as he expressly states in the same chapter, "they who regard baptism as nothing but a token and a mark by which we confess our religion before men... have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to recieve baptism with this promise: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16)These quotes may surpise some Presbyterians, because it seems comparable to the Lutheran position which so many protestants reject as "Romish" without clearly evaluating the Biblical testimony. There is however, a difference between Calvin and Luther's view. For Luther, the grace given to the recipient, including infants is the Holy Spirit himself. For Calvin, the gift given is grace, but this grace comes in the form of entrance into the church community. In some sense the recipient does have a special relationship with the Spirit through baptism, but only as the Spirit is present with the church. This comes from the idea that Calvin does not accept that one can be regenerate and fall away, but Luther does. However, both agree that the elect will all be preserved by grace and gain final salvation.

I submit that Calvinists and other protestants look at the Biblical testimony seriously without rejecting out of hand what sounds Papistic. Just because the Roman church does it does not mean it is wrong. I would also exhort Calvinists to look carefully at what Calvin actually believed about this subject, as so many later Presbyterians see infant baptism as merely looking forward to something in the future, without actually doing anything. Calvin's idea was followed famously by Abraham Kuyper whose doctrine has been labeled "presumptive regeneration." A child is concidered a Christian after baptism, unless signs show that the child is not. Thus, the Spirit can regenerate through baptism but does not always do it. I would also encourage Lutherans to seriously look at Calvins doctrine of baptism, and stop misconstruing what Calvin actually believed in light of current Calvinists who obscure his teachings.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I believe in Matthean priority over Mark

Most scholars have accepted Mark's gospel to be the earliest written, which then became the source, along with another missing gospel named "Q" for the gospels of Matthew and Luke. From what research I have done in the gospels so far however, this opinion seems flawed. Evidence points to the fact that Matthew was the first gospel to be written. Here are some reasons why I believe this to be the case

- Matthews gospel was not written, as some suppose at the end of the first century. It was written before the fall of Jerusalem. Matthew, who was so quick to point out when Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled, would surely have noted, after Jesus prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, that it had indeed come to be.

- Many support a late dating of the gospel of Matthew due to the fact that it contains much liturgy that was to developed to have been so early, such as the trinitarian formulation in the great comission. This is only accepted based upon the idea of the evolution of theology over time. The developed theology of Matthew could not possibly have arisen so soon after the resurrection. This idea is supported by the fact that, for example, Mark is written so simply that the writer must have been ignorant of the more complex doctrines taught in Romans or Hebrews. This is easily explainable because Mark was written for an audience that was not yet informed in the faith. Hebrews was written for the more mature believer. One way that we know a developed theology did arise fairly early is through the writings of the apostle Paul. Even in Paul's undisputed epistles, he contains statements that most recognize to be traditions of earlier Christian origin. This places a developed theology all the way back to possibly the 40s AD.

- It is often supposed that ideas about Christ as pre-existent only appear in the later Johannine writings and somewhat in Paul due to helenistic influence, only later to be more dogmatized in the non-Pauline epistle to the Colossians. This idea is said to be foreign to the gospel writers. If this were the case, and the gospels were written so late in the first century, would not Paul's influence have effected their theology by that point? Thus, their own assumptions contradict themselves. I of course do not agree that this is the case, as I believe Matthew has a very high Christology. The fact that Matthew calls Jesus "Immanuel" is enough to testify to this.

-The consensus of the early church was that Matthew's gospel was written first. This should not be quickly dismissed. In the second century Matthew's gospel is quoted far more often then Mark. In fact Mark was barely referenced, as Luke was also more common. If Mark at one time was the only written gospel, would it not have been circulated much faster and in greater numbers? It is also interesting to note, that from the earliest times, the gospels, particularly Matthew were the center of church worship. This would suggest that Matthew had actually been written before the Pauline epistles. If Paul's epistles were the only existing document of church doctrine, it would have been natural for the church to have given them the central place in worship.

- The Pauline epistles themselves do not contain much information about the actual life of Jesus apart from his death and resurrection. They simply assume that those he is writing to already have knowledge of these events, as is obvious in the creedal formulations he quotes. Even when discussing the crucifixion, he gives no information about how that crucifixion actually took place. How did these early Christians have this knowledge that is presupposed? It is unlikely that oral tradition alone would have provided this knowledge between the years of Jesus' resurrection and the supposed late date of the gospels. Early Christianity was permeated in Jewish culture, thus one would expect aspects of early worship to be similar. At the center of synagogue worship was the reading of the Torah. Most likely the Christian community would have likewise centered its worship on readings from a text about the life of their Messiah. This explains how written documents are necessary, even when the majority of people are illiterate. While the Christians did value the Old Testament as inspired, a simple reading of the Torah during a worship service would not have caused the persecution that arose.

-While oral traditions about the life of Jesus were most likely present in the early church and would have been helpful to an extent, they hardly would have been sufficient for the widespread acceptance of the message. It would have been difficult for mere oral traditions to sustains churches over a wide geographic area.

-The didache is clearly dependent upon the gospel of Matthew, and some even see it as a commentary on Matthew. The dating of this document is anywhere from 50-150 AD. If an early date is accepted, then Matthew had clearly been written early, and not only that, but also had gained wide acceptance.

- It is also worth noting that Matthew wrote at a point when the church had a much larger Jewish membership, which would account for an earlier date. Luke then based his gospel on that of Matthew, making it more accesible to gentile readers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Paul and Palestinian Judaism Part 2

Part 2: Paul

Sanders treatment of second temple Judaism is by far the more important part of his work, as not many scholars have completely agreed with Sander's interpretation of Paul. It also only takes up a relatively small portion of the book. Sanders later revisited the subject of Paul in more detail in his book Paul, the law and the Jewish People.

Sanders works from the epistles of Paul which he sees as undisputed which include Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. Sanders sees the rest of the epistles ascribed to him and his speeches in acts as inauthentic. In Sander's view, Paul argued from solution to plight. Paul saw Christ as the solution, thus realized that there must be a plight man needs to be saved from. First came his conviction of redemption in Christ, then came his view of the law. In his description of himself in Philippians 3, Paul calls himself "blameless", thus under the law he did not have a deep inward struggle with sin and the law. When Paul preached, most likely he did this the same way. The content of his preaching was not the conviction of sins and then redemption in Christ, but began with the message of salvation through Christ.

Salvation in Paul is largely seen as a future event, which he mistakenly thought to be soon. Sanders sees Paul's motifs of salvation as more participationist than juristic. The reformation overemphasized the judicial categories of forgiveness, and escape from condemnation, while ignoring the real heart of salvation, which is a mystical participation in Christ. Paul shows this in his argument in his first epistle to the Corinthians when arguing against sexual immorality. It is wrong because it effects one's union with Christ, by one uniting to a prostitute. Sin is not merely the violation of an abstract law. This participationist language is also used in Corinthians in the discussion of the Lord's Supper wherein one participates in the body and blood of Christ.

Unlike later proponents of the New Perspective, Sanders sees justification as transfer language. It describes one entrance into the people of God. However, one's entrance into the people of God is not so much about one's legal status. Paul indeed adopted the earlier Christian view that Christ's death was expiatory and that man was forgiven of his sins. However, when Paul uses this language he is only expressing accepted Christian tradition, not his own point of view. Paul's own thought emphasizes the death of Christ as delivering us from the old aeon and bringing us into the new. His death involves a changing of Lordship. It causes us not to die to the penalty of sin, but to the power of sin.

For Sanders, Paul did not see the law as something which was impossible to fulfill. As was previously mentioned, he said himself that he was blameless under the law. The problem with the law was not that it did not offer righteousness, but that it offered the wrong kind of righteousness. Paul came to the realization that man must be righteous by faith in Christ, thus all other righteousness is excluded. Thus it cannot come by the law. He saw the problem that both Jews and Gentiles were to be righteoused by faith, thus law could not make one righteous, since it excluded gentiles.

Paul believed, as is evident in Romans 6 that men are under the Lordship of sin. He did not come to this conclusion by any inner struggle, but by the fact of the lordship of Christ. Since to be saved, one must come under the lordship of Christ, he must have previously been under the lordship of something else. That something else is sin. This takes him so far as to even overemphasize man's sinfulness in Romans 7 and almost equates the law itself with sin.

Does Paul accept the covenantal nomism pattern which he had recieved as a Pharisee? Sanders says in some sense yes, and in some sense no. In many ways, his categories were much different. For example, he discusses the new exodus, but does not see it in covenantal categories, but as the escape from one aeon to another. Paul does accept the basic idea that in the new covenant there is salvation, and those outside of the covenant will not recieve salvation. One enters into the new covenant by baptism, through grace, and must keep with repentance to stay within the covenant. This is seen as he often talks about justification by grace in the past tense but in Romans 2 is able to speak of a future justification by works. However, he differs in his description of personal transgression. Transgression for Paul is not seen as something which will exclude one from the covenant, but as something which effects one's mystical union with Christ. While Paul does sometimes speak in covenantal language, the covenantal nomism category does not fit his emphasis on the new creation. Essentially, while Paul accepts some aspects of Jewish soteriology, it is inconsistent with his participationist categories.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Paul and Palestinian Judaism

I am currently doing an independant study on the so called, "new perspectives on Paul." Pauline theology is one of my greatest interests, and I hope to someday be a scholar who will be able to offer something in this debate. I am going to give a brief overview of each section of E.P. Sander's Paul and Palestinian Judaism, the first important volume in this movement. I know many do not have the time to read through this much material themselves, so I am hoping to be of aid to those who would like to understand this movement.

Part 1: Palestinian Judaism
Sanders briefly overviews the different evaluations of second temple Judaism which scholars have promoted in the recent past. In the 19th century, due to the work of F. Weber, it was generally understood that Judaism of the second temple period was a religion of "works righteousness." Jews supposedly believed that God would weigh one's good deeds against his bad to determine the fate of that man. One could gain extra merit through a "treasury of merits" of sorts. Sanders concludes that Weber's evaluation was deeply flawed, though remained somewhat unchallenged in his day. This same view of Judaism was promoted by Bousset, Schurer, and Bultmann. Many Jewish scholars refuted Weber's claims, and Sanders believes succesfully, yet there work was not of much effect. Weber's view still was the majority opinion.

Sanders wants to prove that Weber's view is flawed by evaluating the writings of the second temple period extensively. According to Sanders, there is an overall coherence of the "pattern of religion" in Judaism. Though there were certainly diverging views of Judaism in the second temple period, there was an overall basic soteriology which permeated the majority of second temple literature. Sanders labels this soteriology "covenantal nomism." Covenantal nomism is the idea that the Jews believed themselves to be in the covenant by grace, but maintained there status in the covenant by obedience. In other words, the emphasis was on God's electing grace, rather than on strict law-keeping. God chose the nation of Israel to be His own, thus one is in the covenant by God's choice, not by works. The role of law-keeping was one of maintaining status, rather than gaining status. One could lose "salvation" by breaking the commandments, yet one could not gain "salvation" by keeping commandments.

The question naturally comes as to why God elected the nation of Israel. Sanders writes that there were three different answers to this question in second temple literature. One answer is that the covenant was offered to all nations, yet Israel was the only one to accept it. The second opinion is that the nation was chosen because of the merits of the patriarchs. The third, was that God elected the nation simply because he chose to. It was a matter of pure grace. The first two answers still put the covenant in the hands of human merit, yet Sanders does not see this as harmful to his thesis. It does not matter how or why the covenant was initiated in the first place. What matters is that those in the covenant in the second temple period, were personally initiated apart from what they had done. It seems to me that the first two responses do not coincide well with Sanders overall thesis. Whether or not the merit of the descendents of the patriarchs gained the covenant, it was still gained by human merit. I find it interesting that some thought the covenant was initiated because of the merits of the patriarchs. This means that it would not be an idea foreign to Judaism for Paul to say that we are saved by the righteousness (or merit) of another, namely the Godman Jesus Christ. Perhaps this framework allowed Paul to frame his ideas in such a way as to be understandable to a Jewish audience.

Sanders certainly is right in showing the sloppiness of much scholarship dealing with the second temple literature. Often no differentiation was made between Tannaitic and Amoraic material, and it had been simply assumed that Rabbinic Judaism was identical to Pharisaic Judaism. Sanders convincingly shows that there is more to Jewish soteriology than a simple weighing of merits. One would try his best, and when he failed there was the system of atonement in the law which would restore him, and assure him that his sins had been forgiven. One is often said to be rewarded for his goodness, and for his deeds, yet it is not that one earns salvation through these merits, but that one maintains his status and proves himself through these merits. The just God must reward righteousness, and punish evil, yet not in such a way as to say that a man earns that status. He is only aided to righteousness by God grace. When Sanders runs into a passage that seems to contradict his idea, he resorts to saying that they were no systematic theologians, thus were not careful and could be inconsistent.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some good quotes from St. Bernard of Clairvaux

"The cause of loving God is God. I spoke the truth, for He is both the efficient and final Cause. It is He who gives the occasions, it is He who creates the affection, He consummates the desire."

"He gave Himself to merit for us, He retains Himself to be our reward, He offers Himself as the food of saintly souls, He gives himself as the price of the redemption of those in captivity." (On the Love of God ch. VII)

"Give Him glory once for offenses pardoned; give it again for virtues conferred." (Sermon on Canticle of Canticles ch. III)

"His fatherly love is greater than any injustice whatsoever." (Canticles ch.X)

"You were sinning, oh man, in darkness and in the shadow of death through ignorance of truth. You were sitting bound by the chains of sin. He down to prison not to torture you, but to rescue you from the power of darkness. And first the Teacher of truth dispelled the darkness of ignorance by the light of His wisdom. The by the righteousness of faith he loosed the bonds of sin, freely justifying the sinner." (Canticles ch.XV)

"It suffices me for attaining to all righteousness, to have Him alone propitious toward me against whom alone I have sinned... Not to sin is the righteousness of God": Man's righteousness is God's forgiveness." (Canticles ch.XVI)

"Ah! from how great bitterness of soul have you often delivered me, O Good Jesus, coming to me!... How often has prayer taken me on the brink of despair, and restored me to the state of soul of one exulting in joy and confident forgiveness. Those who are afflicted in this way, behold they know that the Lord Jesus is truly a Physician Who healeth the broken of heart and bindeth up their bruses" (Canticles ch.XX)

"Great faith merits great rewards. And wherever you set down the foot of hope among the goods of the Lord, they will be yours." (Canticles ch.XX)

"Your sins are very great and beyond number. Never will you be able to make satisfaction for them, so many and so great are they, not even if you strip the very skin from your body." (Canticles ch. XXIV)

"Because He is unwilling to forgive sins? He nailed them to the cross together with His own hands. Because you are delicate and accustomed to a life of ease? But he knoweth our frame. [He remembereth that we are dust] Because you have grown accustomed to evil and are bound by the fetters of habitual sin? But the Lord looseth them that are fettered. Are you perhaps fearful lest, angered by the greatness and number of your sins He will be slow to extend a helping hand? But where sin abounded, grace did more abound." (Canticles XXIV)

"While I am in this life this more sublime philosophy will be mine-to know Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (Canticles ch.XXVIII)

"In order to merit, it is enough to know that our merits do not suffice for us." (Canticles ch.XLI)

Monday, September 8, 2008

The ten most important theologians of all time

I have compiled a list of who I think the ten most important theologians outside of the New Testament in the church are. Anyone disagree with my assesment? Feel free to comment.

1. Augustine- Augustine is simultaneously the father of Roman Catholicism, Calvinism and Lutheranism. His high view of the church was adopted by the Romish church, his view of grace was adopted by the Lutheran and Reformed churches, and his view of the sovereignty of God became the cornerstone of Calvinism. Also the mystic and scholastic movements could claim themselves as heirs of Augustine. He has done great things for the universal church by giving the clearest explenation of the trinity which the western church would ever have in his book on the Trinity. He defined original sin much clearer than any theologian before him, securing this position for all of the western church. Because of his doctrine of original sin, the theological foundation for infant baptism was secured, not to be questioned for hundreds of years. Augustine's book the City of God influenced both the theocracy under Charlamagne and the two kingdom theology of Luther. Augustine's treatise on the Spirit and the Letter was the first clear explanation of what would later be known as the Lutheran law/gospel distinction. Also, the universalism that many had speculated about since the time of Origen was finally wiped out by Augustine.

2. Martin Luther- Martin Luther was of course the father of the Protestant reformation, one of the most important events in the history of the church (and the world in general). He defined the doctrine of justification by faith alone clearer than any had before him. Paul's theology for the first time was fully understood. Luther pushed the whole church to go back the scripture as the only infallible source of truth. He helped abolish the idea that good works were done by seperating oneself from society and trying to save himself. Good works are those things done for the benefit of one's neighbor. Monasticism was not a higher form of spirituality than that of a baker, and it certainly was not a "second baptism." In short, Luther helped the church rediscover the gospel.

3. Athanasius- He made two major theological claims which effected the church for the rest of history. First, his work On the incarnation of the word was the first book written on the atonement, the center of Christianity. In this treatise, Athanasius supports the idea that we all owe a debt of death to God because of our sin. Christ took this debt upon Himself, so that we could be redeemed. Not only are we forgiven of our sins, but God then conforms us to the image of His son. His second major accomplishment was his defense of the deity of Jesus Christ. Athanasius defended at one point against most of the church that Christ was of one substance with the father. He was kicked out of the empire several times for defending the truth. He was the major figure behind the definition of Nicea.

4. John Calvin- Calvin did not do much that was new. However, he formulated a doctrinal system which would effect all of Protestantism outside of Lutheranism. He defined the idea of double predestination which would become a central tenant of the reformed church. He went farther than Luther with the idea of sola scriptura by creating the regulative principle of worship. Man is only to include in a worship service that which is directly commanded by God. He formulated a view of governent which became the ideology of the Puritans when they came to establish America. The most positive thing Calvin did was emphasize the grammatical historical method of Bible interpretation. It surely was taught by many before Calvin, but he did it with excellence, not surpassed by perhaps any since his time.

5. Thomas Aquinas- He is considered the "angelic doctor" of the Roman church. He put together the most comprehensive system of theology ever produced, which layed the groundwork of modern day Roman Catholicism. He popularized the use of Aristotle in Christian theology and the use of natural theology. According to Aquinas, man's intellect was not fallen, though his will was. He was the most important figure to come out of the scholastic period.

6. Friedrich Schleiermacher- He is the father of Protestant liberalism. When the enlightenment came, many became deists and rejected religion all together. Schleiermacher did not want to do this and so he claimed to be a Christian theologian while rejecting almost every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. His unfortunate influence is still with us today and was the cause of the Bible wars in the 20th century.

7. Karl Barth- He formed neo-orthodoxy, the midway point between conservativism and liberalism. He accepted some of the historical critical ideas, but did not want to reject the theology of the Protestant Reformers. Barth put the Bible back in an authoritative place and rejected natural theology. Christ was once again placed at the center of the Christian faith. Barth's influence has been both positive and negative. Positive in his Christocentrism, yet negative in his denial of innerancy.

8. Gregory the Great- He defined what would be the religion of the middle ages. He marks the end of the age of the fathers and the dawn of a new era. He liked Augustine but toned down his theology of predestination, coming closer to the semi-pelagian position. While rejecting the title of universal bishop, he got himself involved in political affairs, laying the groundwork for the Papal theocracy of a later period. He popularized the idea of purgatory which led to the focus on the meritorious nature of penance and prayers to the saints as mediators between man and Christ. In some ways, Gregory is the first Roman Catholic.

9. John Wesley- The founder of methodism, he popularized Arminianism and led way to a new branch of the Protestant church. As an evangelist, he did many good things, preaching both law and gospel. Under Wesley, experience became essential to the Christian life. One must have an experience of grace and come to a point where God assures him of his salvation. Wesley fought against much of the legalism in the Anglican church of his day, emphasizing the gratuity of God's grace. In doing this he rejected Calvinism while defending the idea of prevenient grace. He came up with the idea of perfectionism, which taught that the Christian could come to a point in his life when he would no longer sin. This led to the second blessing idea which was then the foundation of pentacostalism.

10. Charles Finney- He was the leader of the so-called "second great awakening." Rather than emphasizing the sinfulness of man and the free grace of God in Christ, as Wesley, Edwards, and Whitfield did in the first awakening, Finney emphasized the experience of conversion. Finney denied original sin and the substitutionary atonement of Christ. For Finney, Christianity was about morality. One could be converted by an emotional experience and then live a good moral life. These ideas have become the basis for modern evangelicalism.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama and McCain at Saddleback

I am sure many of you saw this program, as I did. Aside from the politicizing from both candidates, I have some problems with this type of forum. The question I have is, "should a pastor be taking this role in America's politics?" It seems to me that Rick Warren thinks a little more of his importance than he should. His job should be shepharding God's sheep. From what I have seen from Rick Warren lately, he has been much more focused on the world's problems than the word of God. Should a church building be such a place for political ventures? I don't think so. The church is for the preaching of God's word and the administration of the Sacraments, not for politics.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Lutheran evaluation of the five points of Calvinism

Often in evangelicalism, the question is asked "are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?" No other alternatives are given. How should a good Lutheran answer this question? Some would day that they agree with only the first two points of the acronym TULIP but rejects the rest. A more nuanced view, which I would take, is that there is truth to be affirmed in four of the five points.

Now to go through each point:

1. Total Depravity- The Lutheran language on this point differs, as "the bondage of the will" is spoken of rather than total depravity; this is due to a possible misunderstanding that mankind is as evil as possible (utter depravity). However, the theological point remains the same. Humans are unable to approach God apart from grace, because the sinner's will is fallen; they are in bondage to sin.

2. Unconditional Election- Lutheran theology affirms, along with Calvinism, that God's election unto life is unconditional. God does not elect based on foreseen faith or merit, but out of pure grace with no regard to the behavior of the elect sinner. Thus, on this point here is also agreement, though it is to be noted that Lutherans reject the negative side of this teaching, that God predestines people unto death. In Lutheranism, predestination is single rather than double.

3. Limited Atonement- This is the major area of disagreement with Reformed Theology. Lutherans affirm a universal saving will in God, as well as a universal atonement. The atonement was objectively given for all, but its benefits must be subjectively received by faith. For more on this point, see my article here, or listen to this podcast on the subject.

4. Irresistable Grace- On this point, there are both areas of agreement and disagreement. Along with Calvinism, Lutherans affirm that when one is saved, it is the result of sovereign grace overcoming the sinner's fallen will, and not in any way the result of a free decision on the part of man. Lutherans also affirm that God's election will always result in final salvation; in other words, election is immutable. However, we don't limit saving grace to the elect, but teach that grace is universal in scope and intent. For more on that point, listen to this program.

5. Perseverence of the Saints- On this point, as with the fourth, there is both agreement and disagreement. It is unfortunate Lutherans too often confuse this doctrine with the idea of "once saved always saved", and thus reject the entirety of the Reformed doctrine. This idea is that if one "accepts Christ" at some point in their life, they may then live as they please and still gain eternal life. This is not and never was the Calvinistic doctrine. The Calvinist's doctrine of perseverence is the outcome of the doctrine of election. Those whom God elected, He will preserve until the end. All of God's elect will be finally saved. It emphasizes the reality that it is God who preserves the elect in faith. Regarding monergism, there is agreement here. Lutherans too argue that perseverance is the sole work of God, not of man. However, we confess that some do depart from the faith, and lose their salvation. You can read my article on that subject here.

The difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology on these points is that the Lutheran system allows seeming tensions to stand side by side, as both are affirmed in Scripture. God's grace is universal, yet those who are saved are so by grace alone. One who is saved is elected unto salvation unconditionally, and the glory goes to God; one who is damned is lost only because they purposefully rejected God's grace, all the blame goes to the human person.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Fundamental Theological Issues which resulted in my "conversion"

Why I became a Lutheran

1. The starting point of Lutheran theology is the starting point of the New Testament Writers
Calvinism starts with the doctrine of God and from there developes it's theological system. This is the fundamental difference between the two great branches of the reformation. In Calvinism, the begining of theology is the glory of God. God glorifies Himself in all He does. He is in control of all that happens. He has decreed all things from all eternity for His own pleasure. This includes the saving of some and damning of others. Christ then comes in the picture to execute God's justice for those whom He has chosen.
Lutheranism begins with Christ. God cannot be known apart from Christ. God does of course do all things for His pleasure and is in control of all, however, we cannot seek Him there. God in His glory is unknown to us. We must not try and study His secret counsel. God must only be sought as He has perfectly revealed Himself in Christ, as testified by the Holy Scriptures. I believe this because this is where the Bible itself leads us. The gospels begin not with God in His glory, but God coming down and revealing Himself to us as a man in the person of Jesus. That is the only way He may be known, as Paul testifies, "He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God." (Colossians 1:15) If He is the image of the invisible God, why search for God apart from Him?

2. Lutheranism rightly emphasizes Universal Grace and Sola Gratia
In Calvinism, election is seen in the hidden decrees of God. This is how the infralapsarian/supralapsarian controversies are possible. Double predestination is nothing more than God's glorifying Himself by saving and damning. The starting point is the doctrine of God.
In Lutheranism, the starting point is the sinfulness of man, and the free grace of God in Christ. God has saved us apart from anything that we can do on our own. We are lost and hopeless children of Adam. This culminates in the doctrine of justification. Election is nothing else than a further explanation of this fact. For example, in Romans we are first told through chapters 3-8, that we are justified by faith alone apart from works. From that starting point, Paul goes even further in defending this doctrine by saying that even our faith was a gift from God. Not even that was contributed! Election further explains and defends the gratuity of grace, and the sinfulness of man. The Bible never describes election in such a systematic and rigid way as Calvinism does. It is always used in a soteriological context. This does not mean that Lutheranism falls into the same errors as Arminianism. Predestination is not based upon mere foreseen faith or good deeds. It is not merely the predestination of a plan. God has predestined specific people unto salvation unconditionally, and will preserve them unto the end.
Calvinism restricts grace to the elect. Christ died only for the elect, and God desires only the salvation of the elect. Passages such as I Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9 are explaned to be about the elect alone.
Lutheranism teaches that God truly offers grace to all men. Thus, if a man is damned it is completely his own doing and cannot be attributed to the fact that God never offered him grace. I Timothy 2:4 is clear that God wishes "all men to be saved." In the context of this passage, Paul is urging that we pray for all men, including those in authority. The thought continues through verse 4. If verse four does not literally mean "all men" but only "all kinds of men" then Paul must also mean that we do not pray for all men, but only all kinds of men. This clearly distorts his point. Jesus also weeps over Jerusalem because he desired to gather them to Himself but they refused. Calvinists have often have trouble with this passage, assuming that Christ is talking only of the elect in Jerusalem. Explanations offered by Calvinists, such as James White in The Potter's Freedom are unconvincing. It is obvious that scripture teaches God wills the salvation of all men, and that He has predestined unconditionally a specific group of people unto salvation. If God offers salvation to all, why does He only give the gift of faith and preserve some? We must not answer this question, but accept in humble faith that what God's word says is true. Calvinists have tried to answer this question by either attributing two wills to God or by trying to explain away universalistic passages. Scripture says nothing of contradictions in God, and we must not assume that to be the case.

3. Lutheranism accepts what God says in His word about the Eucharist
The doctrine of Calvin in regards to the Lord's Supper is that Christ is spiritually present when recieving for the believer upon the condition of faith. Christ according to His human nature is only at one place, and that is at the right hand of God. Thus only His divine nature is present. However, through faith, the Spirit causes the believer to ascend to heaven to commune with the whole Christ, divine and human.
Lutheranism teaches that Christ, at the institution of the meal, means, "this IS my body", which Calvinists have taken to mean "this represents my body." Lutherans take Jesus at His word. It IS His body. Fortunately, the apostle Paul also touched on this subject, giving us assurance that the Lutheran interpretation is correct. "Is not the coup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:15) Notice that there is nothing here about the soul ascending to heaven, or about the Spirit, or about Christ according to His divine nature, or about a "symbol" of the blood and body of Christ. These things are mere inventions of men, escaping the obvious meaning of the text. The Bible says not a word about these things which the reformed add to these passages. We actually participate in His actual body and blood. Body and blood are attributes of the human nature, not the divine. What about the claim that Christ is only present on the condition of faith? Paul here gives us a clear answer, "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:27) Those who recieve the Supper without faith still recieve His actual body and blood. Notice that it does not say, "sinning against a symbold of the body and blood."
If this is true, then how can Christ be at so many places at one time according to His human nature? The answer is, "I don't know but the Bible teaches it." Christ being seated at God's right hand means that Christ is seated in a position of authority with the father, not that he is seated on an actual throne next to an actual throne of God the father. This would suggest that God the father Himself has a human body. It is clear in scripture that Christ can do things which a normal man cannot. He at times dissapears in the gospels, and even walks through walls. This does not mean that Christ is a mere phantom or that He is not truly fully human. Rather, due to the union of the person of Christ who is both God and man, He is not limited in the same ways we are. Paul gives a clear expression in his epistle to the Ephesians that Christ's human nature is omnipresent with His divine. "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order that He might fill the whole universe." (Ephesians 4:10) If this means, as Calvinists take it, that Christ at His ascension filled the whole universe only according to His divine nature, this means that before this Christ's divine nature did not fill the universe. If omnipresense is a necessary attribute of deity, this means that Christ was not truly divine! Christ, as God, always filled the universe. It was only after His ascension that the Godman filled all things.

4. Lutherans accept what God teaches about Baptism.
According to basically all protestants, begining with the reformed, Baptism was seen as a sign that did not actually impart grace to the recipient. The Bible talks sometimes of "spirit baptism" and sometimes of "water baptism." Baptism is often seen as something we do in order to show our faith to the world. In Presbyterianism, baptism is a covenant sign, given to all the members of a believing household. It does not impart grace to the infant, but incorporates them into the Church and the family covenant, offering them forgiveness of sins.
As a Lutheran, I can say with the apostle Paul, "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Baptism actually gives what the Bible says it gives. It is not a mere symbol. As Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 6, man must be born of water and of the Spirit. The water in baptism is not seperated from the Spirit in baptism. Some will object that John baptized with water but Jesus baptized with fire. Does this not mean that John's was water baptism, and Jesus meant an inward change of the heart, without regards to water? No, the difference was redemptive historical. John's baptism did not impart the Spirit as later baptism did because the Spirit was not yet sent as Christ's vicar. This happened at Pentecost. After this point, baptism with water also gave the Spirit. Regeneration and baptism are not seperated in the New Testament as some would believe. In Titus 3, regeneration is said to be a washing, clearly refering to water. The book of 1 Peter has a lengthy discussion of regeneration. He explains in chapter 3 how this regeneration occurs. "...baptism now saves you, not by the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21) baptism saves, because through it God imparts the Spirit and forgives sin. This being said, can may be saved without baptism? Yes, man is justified by faith alone, however, God gives and sustains faith through means. Those means are word and sacrament.
This being understood, I can baptize my infant with the assurance that he has died and been raised with Christ. Through baptism, my child is given the gift of faith. But can an infant actually believe? That does not seem possible? Well, it may not seem possible, and I certainly do not understand it, however the Bible teaches it. John the baptist leapt in his mother's womb. David also teaches it. "From birth I have relied on you" (Psalm 71:6)

5. Lutherans reject human reason as a means to find God's truth.
These errors in reformed theology come from vain attempts of man to use his own reason to create doctrine. It does not make sense how God could give grace universally and save by grace alone. For this reason, universal grace is rejected. It does not make sense how Christ as a man can be omnipresent. Thus, the clear words of our Lord are rejected. It does not make sense how God could use such a thing as water to give so great a gift! Thus, baptism is made into a mere symbol. It does not make sense how an infant can have faith. Thus, infant baptism is rejected. Some of the most popular attempts at defending reformed theology are philosophical discussions, rather than straight exegesis, for example: John Owen's the Death of Death, and John Edwards' the Freedom of the Will. A fundamental error of the Calvinist side of the reformation is that though they accept the principle of Sola Scriptura, they too often use their reason to make sense of things which do not make sense to mortal man. God's truth is much larger than our brains. This is why Calvinist's begin with rational discussions of the essense and decrees of God, while Lutherans begin with the foolishness of the cross.

I am going to begin using this thing again

I have decided to continue my blogging, after a very long time of posting nothing. Since the last time I posted here, my theological views have changed. Thus, this blog will now be primarilly a defense of confessional Lutheranism as the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture. My main theological positions in many ways have not changed. I am still a very strong monergist. The five solas of the reformation are at the heart of my belief system. I still believe that God selected individual people unto salvation and will preserve His elect until the end. While the Reformed Confessions speak much truth, I believe them to be in error in a few points, primarilly in dealing with the sacraments.